Special delivery: How will Meghan do it?
As her due date nears, will the duchess go for a private, public or Hollywood birth, ask Celia Walden & Anna Tyzack
Baby Sussex's arrival is imminent, but where will we see that first shot of the beaming duke and duchess: on the steps of the uber-plush Lindo Wing, outside their local NHS hospital, or at home with a doula? We still don't know what the plans are for the royal baby, but here's what they can expect, whatever route they choose.
The private wing
The hotel-style birthing experience offered by the private Lindo Wing at St Mary's Hospital, Paddington, with airy suites, in-house chefs and champagne teas, starts at a basic rate of £5,900 for a normal delivery in a standard room, and £7,435 for a c-section, with consultant's fees, anaesthetics and room upgrades extra, and additional nights from £1,175.
Of more concern to the free-spirited duchess than the cost, however, will be that delivering at the Lindo means following closely in the footsteps of her sister-in-law, Kate Middleton.
The Lindo was opened by the Queen in 1937, as a place for high profile women to give birth in private. Back then, royal mothers still gave birth in their palaces but the Lindo became the royal choice when George Pinker, royal gynaecologist and obstetrician from 1973 until 1990, persuaded the family that giving birth in hospital was safer. He delivered nine royal babies here, from Peter and Zara Phillips to Princes William and Harry. Not only does it offer a stellar array of obstetricians, but the hospital is accustomed to royal protocols and prides itself on privacy, discretion and security.
Kerstin Smolcic, a blogger who gave birth in the Lindo in 2017, was impressed to find a waterproof security tag swiftly attached to her newborn, Ava Grace's ankle. "If it gets too close to the maternity ward elevator, it immediately stops working and the area is locked down," she explains.
Meghan and Harry might also be swayed by the fact that the Lindo is attached to a major hospital with a neonatal unit.
In the hours after giving birth, Smolcic was visited by a paediatrician, a nutritionist and a physiotherapist to teach her how to do pelvic floor exercises. Her suite was kitted out with toiletries and an armchair that folded out in to a bed for her husband. They enjoyed dinner together and then Ava Grace was moved to the optional nursery, where she was cared for by midwives while her parents slept.
If Meghan is planning on following the principals of attachment parenting, she won't like the sound of the nursery, but on Mumsnet it's regarded as one of the best aspects; Smolcic says it gave her a chance to rest and recover a little after the birth. "There's a milk menu with various types of formula and if you're breastfeeding the midwives will bring your baby to you at feed times," she says.
Patients can stay as long as they like (and can afford): Kate headed home after one night but Smolcic stayed on an extra 24 hours to benefit from the "phenomenal" advice and help from the midwives. "They showed us how to bathe Ava Grace, change her nappies and breastfeed her. Then, feeling rested, refreshed and prepared for parenthood we checked out."
The opposite, then, to the way most parents feel as they venture out of hospital with their newborn.
- Anna Tyzack
The public option
The Mulberry Birth Centre at Frimley Park, the other reported contender for baby Sussex's birth, is much like any other NHS maternity unit. There is one birth pool and 14 labour rooms with dimmable lights, birth balls and beanbags, plus a few private rooms - a far cry from the Lindo's wine list and spa menu.
But if Meghan does decide to give birth on the NHS, it would not (just) be a ruse to make Kate look precious; Frimley Park is a mere 15 miles from their new home, Frogmore Cottage. The duchess will also have heard great things about it from Harry's aunt, Sophie, Countess of Wessex, who credits Frimley's consultant-led labour ward for saving her life when she suffered a placental abruption in 2003 during the birth of her eldest child, Lady Louise Windsor. In 2014 Sophie returned to open the hospital's neonatal unit.
What will also matter to Meghan is the hospital's above average natural birth ratio - and that women with uncomplicated births tend to leave within four to six hours.
There is no question of roughing it. In fact, patients often compare the Mulberry, Frimley's "home from home" birthing suite, to a hotel.
"It was lovely, we had our own room with a double bed that folded up in to the wall to allow for extra room," says Hayley Stainton, who gave birth to her daughter, Isla there in 2017. "There were ropes to hang from, mats to lie on and balls to sit on. As I wanted a water birth, we left our room for the pool, which was equally nice with calming music and coloured lights."
Her husband stayed the night in the double bed as their new baby girl slept between them. "It was clean and comfortable and I had my own bathroom. I was brought drinks throughout the night and breakfast in bed the next morning. All on the NHS! I don't think my experience would have been any better in a private hospital."
All this is assuming, of course, that the duchess, whose pregnancy is deemed "low risk", doesn't further upstage her sister-in-law by giving birth at home. Home births account for 14pc of births at Frimley, with 98.9pc of these taking place without medical intervention. But if push comes to shove, and Meghan ends up in hospital, there are far worse places to give birth.
- Anna Tyzack
The LA way
"How are you with pain?" asks the doctor.
"I'm not a huge fan."
"So we're thinking an epidural?"
I want to tell the model-turned-anesthesiologist by my bedside that there is no "we" - here in Cedars-Sinai's maternity ward, there's a clear division of labour going on, whereby the women make miniature human beings and he gets given wheelbarrows full of Dead Presidents to inject narcotics into their lower spines. And is that Charlotte Tilbury's Magic Foundation he's wearing? Talk about flawless, poreless perfection.
Instead, I say: "Actually I'm thinking a natural birth." And he barks out a laugh: "Honey, in LA a natural birth means giving birth without your makeup on."
I'd only moved out to Los Angeles three months before my due date, but in that time I'd understood a few things about the women: these slaves to physical perfection didn't do natural. And unless the promise of enhanced physical beauty was at the end of it, they didn't do pain or hardship either.
So how on earth did they do childbirth? Well, by checking into the Chateau Marmont of maternity wards, of course: a place where everyone from the Kardashians to the Beckhams and Britney Spears have paid upwards of $4,000 a night to deliver their offspring in the hospital's five-star, three-bedroom 'birthing suites'.
Had the Duchess of Sussex stayed in LA - and remained Megan Markle, jobbing actress - it's likely she would have added her name to the list. Although it's an outlier, if she is planning to break with royal tradition, this would be the place to do it. After all, you might not want one of life's 'great levellers' to be too levelling.
You might also want a smoothie maker. Although I didn't feel the need to tick that box on the Cedars 'facilities' form. Nor the luxury 'his and hers' bathrobes, 'hardwood floors', 'recessed lighting' and 'flatscreen TVs' offered in the superior suites, since, last I checked, we weren't actually planning to buy the place.
Personal doula? A tough one, but once I'd rephrased the question: "Would you pay $600 for a complete stranger to rub your back and tell you to 'trust your body'?" the answer was obvious. Still, reports that Meghan has already hired a doula, herself - which would make her the first royal in centuries to enlist a birth assistant - suggest she may have been on the Cedars website.
Unlike the Lindo, where Kate took her personal hairdresser to style her for the post-birth photo-opp, 'in-room salon services' are offered as part of the birth service.
I said yes to the Placenta Apothecary consultant, who can advise on whether it's best to eat my own placenta raw, cooked, in capsule or liquid form, in order to guarantee eternal youth, banish baby blues and replenish iron lost during the birth.
And yes, yes, yes to the doctors put in charge of me, who all looked like they'd auditioned for ER - but been rejected on the grounds of being "unrealistically hot."
- Celia Walden